February 23rd, 2011 | 1:00 pm

Advice for Managing Millennials

filed under Expert Answers

judylindenbergerTeriKlassContributed by Terri Klass and Judith Lindenberger

One of the biggest challenges for businesses today is integrating the Millennials twenty-somethings into a Baby Boomer culture. They are the newest generation to enter the labor market, arriving with their distinct ideas about what they expect from their jobs. They are our future leaders and our next generation of revenue-generators. So who are the Millennials and how do we manage their expectations while maintaining high performing organizations?

How Millennials Operate

The Millennial Generation was born between 1977 and 1998. They are 75 million strong in size and were raised by “helicopter parents,” who doted on them, giving them an ample supply of attention and validation. Because they were heralded with high expectations, Millennials tend to display an abundance of self-confidence and believe they are highly valuable to any organization from day one. They are extremely focused on developing themselves and thrive on learning new job skills, always setting new challenges to achieve. They are also the “can do” generation, never worrying about failure, for they see themselves as running the world and work environments.

Unlike other generations, the Millennials are very connected to their parents. As they move through their twenties, they still speak to their parents frequently and turn to their parents for personal and career advice. Some are still even living at home, not uncomfortable with the arrangement. Organizations must remember the parent involvement factor when dealing with this group.

When it comes to work life balance, Millennials are not willing to give up their lifestyle for a career. They have traveled extensively and value having flexibility in their daily lives. They choose careers that allow them to live the life they desire, busy with after-work activities, including philanthropic involvement. Multitasking is their way of life. This generation grew up with little unstructured time as their parents carefully selected their life choices. The result of their minimal “down time” is that they are highly comfortable going from activity to activity in their adult world. When their workday ends, Millennials charge out into gyms, volunteer positions, classes and social events.

Millennials are team-oriented, banding together to socialize in groups. In school, this generation was taught lessons using a cooperative learning style. Therefore, they feel comfortable working on teams and want to make friends with the people at work. They believe that a team can accomplish more and create a better end result. They also grew up in a multi-cultural world which enables them to work well on a team with diverse co-workers. They communicate in snippets through instant messaging, texting, Facebook and e-mail. Quick and efficient communication is the way Millennials choose to interact, not necessarily face-to-face.

Of all of the talents that Millennials bring to the workplace, being technologically savvy is their greatest skill contribution. They are constantly connected as they listen to their iPods or send text messages, all while working on a critical project. Social media is at the heart of their world. This allows them to connect with co-workers and friends around the world at great speed. The electronic capabilities of Millennials are extraordinary. On a recent twitter chat, several Millennials participated at lightning rod speed, sharing their thoughts: One even commented: “Social Media has expanded my network tremendously. More people to talk and learn from.”

Another characteristic of the Millennials is their need for constant feedback and in particular, praise. They were reassured daily of their achievements and were recognized with stars and trophies for those successes. Whether or not the trophy was deserved for each individual, the entire team received the positive reward. It is a generation that needs to continue feeling valuable, while adding their opinions and ideas to every company decision. They want to be heard. In giving critical feedback, managers will need to first compliment Millennials before they will listen to any criticism. They also have little patience for ambiguity, so directions during feedback sessions must be clear and specific. Organizations will be more successful in delivering performance milestones on a more frequent basis than once a year. Once a week might do the trick. The feedback sessions must be interactive, so that the Millennial is presented the opportunity to share their feelings and ideas. Brainstorming together could be a very effective technique.

Tips and Insights

So how do you integrate and manage the youngest generation within the workplace? Here are some key tips and insights.

  • Work Environment: Millennials put friends and lifestyle above work; provide flexible work schedules and a relaxed workplace. They are getting married, and having children later; opportunities for social interaction like Friday afternoon alcohol-free “happy hours,” scavenger hunts, and Nerf battles.
  • Learning and Training Opportunities: Boomer parents raised them to believe that education is the road to success; provide tuition reimbursement and employee training.
  • Recruiting: Almost 70% say that giving back and being civically engaged are their highest priorities; emphasize the ways that your company contributes to society.
  • On boarding: Millennials want and need connections, checkpoints and mentoring; give them exposure to different parts of the business, provide resources on the intranet for them to use at their own pace, and help them build relationships with current employees.
  • Work ethic: Millennials ask “what is my job” and go about figuring out the best, fastest way to complete that task. Then they consider themselves done.
  • Motivation: They view jobs as “something to do between the weekends”; provide paid time off as a reward.
  • Boss relationships: Loyalty to the boss is the number one reason they stay in a job, especially during the first three years. Dissatisfaction with the boss is the number one reason they quit; win their affection. Millennials want a tight bond with a boss who is close, caring and aware; be careful not to cross the line from “boss as advocate” to “boss as friend.
  • Managing: Millennials grew up learning how to figure out things on their own. With the Internet and a network of friends a text message away they will find their own answers; describe the result you’re looking for and let them figure out how to get there. In many cases they’ll develop a better process. They do not take well to orders and resent being handed busywork with no explanation as to its purpose; to bring out the best in them, teach them about the company and explain how their work will lead to specific results. They are impatient but always eager to learn and quick to do so; hold them accountable for mistakes and praise them for success. Millennials think of themselves as a commodity that they can sell to the highest bidder; if you tell them it’s your way or the highway, they may walk.
  • Work assignments: They are great multi-taskers with 10 times the speed and technical knowledge of their older siblings; give them several projects. Though they are independent thinkers, Millennials love working in teams; put them in the field with clients, where they can work in teams and solve problems collaboratively. They question the status quo and expect to make an impact on day one; let them work on projects with higher-ups when appropriate.
  • Performance Feedback: Boomer parents coached them to ask for what they want; provide coaching sessions to discuss career paths. They’re used to constant feedback; shorten the feedback loop. Do reviews at least quarterly.
  • Reducing turnover: They set short-term goals and want to make an impact from day one; create career paths with a timeframe short enough for them to envision. Reward small successes along the way.
  • With 75 million Millennials entering the workplace, organizations have no choice but to learn how to recruit, grow and retain these workers. If not, companies will lose talented employees who, because of their strong networking and technological capabilities, have the ability to be the most productive generation to date.

    Confused? Excited? Want to learn more? Terri Klass and Judy Lindenberger are experts in leadership development, human resources and coaching. We offer innovative, customized training and coaching for Millennial workers and for those who employ and manage them.

    Contributed articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Glass Hammer team.

    9 comments

    1. Kacie

      As a millennial, I resent this blanket description of who we are as an employee. Though you may have had a few good points and words of advice, particularly about training opportunities, you seem to be way off on motivation. I don’t sit at my desk Monday through Friday twiddling my thumbs praying for the workweek to be over (ok, maybe sometimes I do that, but don’t we all?). I’m dedicated at my job and hate being compared to my colleagues, some of whom are older than me.

      To suggest having scavenger hunts and Nerf battles is discriminating and an ugly form of ageism. What we millennials want is the chance to prove that we aren’t kids and to be treated with respect. It is unfair to view millennials as young and immature just as how it’s unfair to view baby boomers as old and senile.

    2. EB

      Millenials live at home because the economy is crap. Same reason many gen X’s are still at home.

      Maybe it is the fact that they have been sacked with ridiculously high tuition and massive debt.

      Maybe it is the fact that the older generation destroyed our economy by gambling it away on mortgages.

      Maybe they want constant praise because like everyone else these days the word layoff is constantly over their heads.

      We know we can’t count on you for job security. Or to take care of this country. You spent our money on debt and to bail out your giant homes.

      Don’t patronize us. Like you we are not all the same.

      “They do not take well to orders and resent being handed busywork with no explanation as to its purpose.”

      Do you? Who would?

      MBA, MSIS, Entreprenuer, Millenial

      - Don’t worry I wont be working for another anyone your age any time soon!

    3. Judy Lindenberger

      @ Kacie, thanks for your comments. I agree with you about motivation. Giving time off is just one way to motivate employees. According to the research, other ways to motivate your generation are to give you responsibility, invite you to share ideas, provide you with a mentor, and offer you training, etc. As a Boomer, I have participated in lots of Scavenger hunts for team building and training. The point is that organizations need to provide opportunities for connection and learning that are fun and interactive. That applies to most adult learners, not just your generation. I don’t believe that the Millennial generation is immature … to the contrary, my experience is that your generation is being self confident and resourceful. I am curious … what did we write specifically that gives you that impression?

      Note to self, we need to rewrite this so that it is informative and not offensive.

    4. Judy Lindenberger

      @EB, thanks for sharing your insights. You are absolutely right that no generation is all the same, nor are people from one race, one gender, etc.

      According to the research, one of the gifts that your generation, on a whole, has, is your desire to make an impact from day one. I am curious … those of you from other generations, do you recall being handed busywork to do at work with no explanation about its purpose and doing it … just because … without question? (I have to admit that I have been guilty of this.)

      Second note to self: Rewrite this so that is is informative and not offensive.

    5. Terri Klass

      @Kacie and @EB,
      I thank you both for your insightful comments regarding the article. I feel that the Millennials are an extraordinary generation with an abundance of talent and drive to offer any organization. In writing this article, my intention was to alert organizations and leaders that if we don’t leverage the talents and skills of Gen Y, companies will be missing out. Having said that, it is critical to understand the values and ethics of Millennials in order to reach out and integrate them into our workplaces successfully. What are some ways you feel could be helpful in making Gen Y feel more connected to an organization that might just be run by many baby boomers? I would look forward to that input.

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    7. Kacie

      @Judy, thanks for your response. You write about helicopter parents and how they dote on their children. Yes, my parents treated me with respect, but nothing in my life was ever handed over. In fact, the reason I’m strong and motivated has more to do with sibling rivalry, which people of all ages can experience.

      Personally, I’m faced with ageism everyday at work and I hate it. I’m not shy to say that I’m 27, but my age shows on my face (which I’m told I’m lucky for) and I struggle to gain respect. I have a Master’s degree in Education and Technology and I’m working toward an MBA, yet some people still view me as a kid, including my baby boomer boss.

      @Terri, I appreciate your response. My advice for millennials to feel more connected to an organization is very similar to this article. They should collaborate with people and become team-oriented. Then again, shouldn’t people of all ages collaborate and work as a team? Boomers can teach millennials a lot, but should know to step back from time to time and learn from them as well.

      The article mentions work-life balance is important to us, but that is becoming a bigger trend among all ages. Americans are programmed to be workaholics and it’s hard to step away from that mantra. We should all learn to step away from time to time, otherwise our work would suffer. In the article “Making time off predictable & required” by Perlow & Porter workers were asked (and in some cases, forced) to take time off and they eventually found an improvement. I work hard, but I know when to take a break.

    8. Judy Lindenberger

      @ Kacie, we really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts with us. You mentioned your frustration with ageism in the workplace. What have you, and others reading this, done to gain respect at work? Some organizations today are implementing reverse mentoring where each generation learns from one another. Thank you for sharing and teaching.

      Judy and Terri

    9. Camille Carboneau Roberts

      I enjoy studying generations and I love to read comments FROM Millennials in particular. The comments here represent what I have found in my research and most of them do not like being “classified or labeled.” I have to say, neither do I though. I am a Gen X’er and have been very active and kept up with technology and career-related topics for 25 years. What some forget is who is teaching the Millennials to be tech savvy? I’m not saying that they can’t teach themselves, but a lot of Gen X’ers ARE tech savvy and some even more so than the Millennials in some cases. Gen X’ers like flexibility too…and all the same things mentioned, from the busy work to the texting.

      EB clearly makes many good points.

      In my opinion, I think we need to be more careful to classify and label a generation as a whole. I think there is overlap in all generations. For example, I know Millennials that are no where near as tech savvy as a Gen X’er, and some really have no desire to be. I also know Millennials that do like structure in the workplace and mentoring.

      I’ve noticed one thing that is really making a difference in the workplace and that is social media. I’m excited that more people and companies are embracing it to bridge the generation gap in a productive manner on the job.

      Just a few thoughts…

      Camille Carboneau Roberts
      CC Career Services
      @CamilleRoberts
      Professional Social Media Advocate =)